Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Paul Eisen: Jewish Power

Expand Messages
  • World View
    Jewish Power By Paul Eisen http://www.israelshamir.net/shamirImages/Shamir/3.htm The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2004
      Jewish Power
      By Paul Eisen


      The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a
      Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons displaying Jewish
      religious symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the
      overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as
      responsible for this crime seems impossible to do.

      The future is always open and nothing can ever be ruled out; but,
      for now, it's hard to see how Israel can be stopped. After over
      fifty years, it is clear that Israel will only relinquish its
      eliminationist attitude to Palestinians and Palestinian life when it
      has to. This need not be through military action but it is hard to
      see how anything else will do. The conventional wisdom - that if
      America turned off the tap, Israel would be brought to its knees -
      is far from proven. First, it's not going to happen. Second, those
      who believe it may well be underestimating both the cohesiveness of
      Israeli society and the force of Jewish history which permeates it.
      Even more unlikely is the military option. The only force on earth
      which could possibly confront Israel is the American military, and,
      again, that is not going to happen.

      Palestinian resistance has been astonishing. After over fifty years
      of brutal assault by what may well one day be seen as one of the
      most ruthless and irrational powers of modern times, and with just
      about every power on earth ranged against them, Palestinians are
      still with us, still steadfast, still knowing who they are and where
      they come from. Nonetheless, for the time being effective resistance
      may be over (though the possibility of organised non-violent
      resistance can never be ruled out), and, for now, the only strategy
      open may be no more than one for survival.

      For us it is so much easier to deny this reality than to accept it,
      and doubtless the struggle will continue. How fruitful this will be
      no-one can say. Although the present seems hopeless, survival is
      still vital and no-one knows when new opportunities may arise.
      Anyway, to struggle against injustice is always worth doing. But
      what if the struggle becomes so delusional that it inhibits rather
      than advances resistance? What if the struggle becomes a way of
      avoiding rather than confronting reality? Those slogans "End the
      Occupation!" and "Two States for Two Peoples!" are now joined by a
      new slogan, "The One-State Solution!" This is every bit as
      fantastic as its predecessors because, just as there never was going
      to be an end to the occupation, nor a real Palestinian state, so,
      for now, there is no possibility of any "one state" other than the
      state of Israel which now stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to
      the Jordan River, and the only "solution" is a final solution and
      even that cannot be ruled out.

      "Zionism is not Judaism; Judaism is not Zionism…."

      The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a
      Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons with Jewish
      religious symbols all over them, and with the full support and
      complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But
      to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do.
      The past is just too terrible. All of us know of the hatred and
      violence to which accusations against Jews have led in the past.
      Also, if we were to examine critically the role of Jews in this
      conflict, what would become of us and of our struggle? Would we be
      labelled anti-Semites and lose much of the support that we have
      worked so hard to gain?

      The present, too, is full of ambiguities. Zionism is not Judaism;
      Judaism is not Zionism has become an article of faith, endlessly
      repeated, as is the assertion that Zionism is a secular ideology
      opposed, for much of its history, by the bulk of religious Jews and
      even now still opposed by true Torah Jews such as Neturei Karta. But
      Zionism is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews
      amongst the most virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta, despite
      their impeccable anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the
      enthusiasm with which they are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc.,
      may well be just Jews in fancy dress, a million miles from the
      reality of Jewish life.

      And even if Zionism can still be disentangled from Judaism, can it
      be distinguished from a broader Jewish identity or Jewishness? So
      often Zionism is proclaimed to be a modern add-on to Jewish
      identity, another, albeit anachronistic, settler-colonial ideology
      simply adopted by Jews in response to their predicament. But, could
      it be that in our need to avoid the accusation of anti-Semitism and
      our own conflicted perceptions and feelings, our insistence that
      Zionism and Jewishness are separate, has led us seriously to
      misunderstand the situation? Has our refusal to look squarely at the
      very Jewishness of Zionism and its crimes caused us to fail to
      understand exactly what we are up against?

      Jews, Judaism and Zionism

      Jews are complex; Jewish identity is complex and the relationship
      between Judaism the religion, and a broader, often secular, Jewish
      identity or Jewishness is very complex indeed. Jewishness may be
      experienced a long way from synagogue, yeshiva or any other formal
      aspect of Jewish religious life, yet is often still inextricably
      bound to Judaism. That is why secular Jews are able to proclaim
      their secularity every bit as loudly as they proclaim their
      Jewishness. Marc Ellis, a religious Jew, says that when you look at
      those Jews who are in solidarity with Palestinians, the overwhelming
      majority of them are secular – but, from a religious point of view,
      the Covenant is with them. For Ellis, these secular Jews unknowingly
      and even unwillingly may be carrying with them the future of Jewish

      Jewish identity, connecting Jews to other Jews, comes from deep
      within Jewish history. This is a shared history, both real and
      imagined, in that it is both literal and theological. Many Jews in
      the west share a real history of living together as a distinct
      people in Eastern, Central and then Western Europe and America.
      Others share a real history of settlement in Spain followed by
      expulsion and then settlement all over the world, particularly in
      Arab and Islamic lands. But this may not be what binds all Jews,
      because for all Jews it is not a real, but maybe a theological,
      history that is shared. Most Palestinians today probably have more
      Hebrew blood in their little fingers then most western Jews have in
      their whole bodies. And yet, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is
      as real to many of them, and most importantly was as real to them
      when they were children, as if they, along with all Jews, had stood
      with Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.

      And histories like that don't stop at the present. Even for secular
      Jews, though unacknowledged and even unrealized, there is a sense,
      not only of a shared history, but also of a shared destiny. Central
      to Jewish identity both religious and non-religious is the sense of
      mission centered on exile and return. How else to explain the
      extraordinary devotion of so many Jews, religious and secular, to
      the "return" to a land with which, in real terms, they have very
      little connection at all?

      For many Jews, this history confers a `specialness'. This is not
      unique to Jews - after all, who in their hearts of hearts does not
      feel a little bit special? But for Jews this specialness is at the
      centre of their self-identification and much of the world seems to
      concur. For religious Jews, the specialness comes from the supposed
      covenant with God. But for secular Jews, the specialness comes from
      a special history. In either case this can be a good, even a
      beautiful, thing. In much of Jewish religious tradition this
      specialness is no more than a special moral obligation, a special
      responsibility to offer an example to the world, and for so many
      secular Jews it has led them to struggle for justice in many places
      around the world.

      At the heart of this Jewish specialness is Jewish suffering and
      victimhood. Like the shared history itself, this suffering may, but
      need not, correspond to reality. Jews have certainly suffered but
      their suffering remains unexamined and unexplained. The Holocaust,
      now the paradigm of Jewish suffering, has long ceased to be a piece
      of history, and is now treated by religious and secular alike, as a
      piece of theology - a sacred text almost - and therefore beyond
      scrutiny. And the suffering never ends. No matter how much Jews have
      suffered they are certainly not suffering now, but for many Jews
      their history of suffering is not just an unchallengeable past but
      also a possible future. So,, no matter how safe Jews may be, many
      feel just a hair's-breadth away from Auschwitz.

      Zionism is at the heart of this. Zionism is also complex and also
      comes from deep within Jewish history with the same sense of exile
      and return. Zionism also confirms that Jews are special in their
      suffering and is explicit that Jews should `return' to a land given
      to them, and only them - by God if they are religious, or by history
      if they are not - because they simply are not safe anywhere else on

      But so what? If Jews think that they are a people with a religious
      link to a land and have a deep wish to `return', why should we care,
      so long as the land is not already populated by Palestinians? And if
      Jews feel that they are special and that God has made some kind of
      special arrangement with them, so what, so long as this does not
      lead them to demand preferential treatment and to discriminate
      against others? And if Jews feel that they have suffered like no-one
      else on the face of the earth, fine, so long as they do not use this
      suffering to justify the imposition of suffering on others and to
      blackmail morally the whole world into quiescent silence?

      This is the problem with Zionism. It expresses Jewish identity but
      also empowers it. It tells Jews (and many others too) that Jews can
      do what Jews have always dreamed of doing. It takes the perfectly
      acceptable religious feelings of Jews, or if you prefer, the
      perfectly harmless delusions of Jews, and tries to turn them into a
      terrible reality. Jewish notions of specialness, choseness and even
      supremacism, are fine for a small, wandering people, but, when
      empowered with a state, an army and F16s become a concern for us

      Zionism as Jewish empowerment in statehood changes everything.
      Israel is not just any state, it is a Jewish state and this means
      more than just a state for Jews. This Jewish state is built on
      traditions and modes of thought that have evolved amongst Jews for
      centuries – amongst which are the notions that Jews are special and
      that their suffering is special. By their own reckoning, Jews are "a
      nation that dwells alone" it is "us and them" and, in many
      cases, "us or them". And these tendencies are translated into the
      modern state of Israel. This is a state that knows no boundaries. It
      is a state that both believes, and uses as justification for its own
      aggression, the notion that its very survival is always at stake, so
      anything is justified to ensure that survival. Israel is a state
      that manifestly believes that the rules of both law and humanity,
      applicable to all other states, do not apply to it.

      Their own worst nightmare

      It is a terrible irony that this empowerment of Jews has come to
      most resemble those empowerments under which Jews have suffered the
      most. Empowered Christianity, also a marriage of faith and power,
      enforced its ideology and pursued its dissidents and enemies with no
      greater fervor than has empowered Judaism. In its zeal and self
      belief, Zionism has come to resemble the most brutal and relentless
      of modern ideologies. But unlike the brutal rationality of
      Stalinism, willing to sacrifice millions for political and economic
      revolution, this Jewish ideology, in its zealotry and irrationality,
      resembles more the National Socialism which condemned millions for
      the attainment of a nonsensical racial and ethnic supremacy.

      Of course there are differences but there are also similarities.
      National Socialism, like Zionism, another blend of mysticism and
      power, gained credibility as a means to right wrongs done to a
      victimized people. National Socialism, like Zionism, also sought to
      maintain the racial/ethnic purity of one group and to maintain the
      rights of that ethnic group over others, and National Socialism,
      like Zionism, also proposed an almost mystical attachment of that
      group to a land. Also, both National Socialism and Zionism shared a
      common interest – to separate Jews from non-Jews, in this case to
      remove Jews from Europe – and actively co-operated in the attainment
      of this aim. And if the similarity between these two ideologies is
      simply too great and too bitter to accept, one may ask what National
      Socialism with its uniforms, flags and mobilized youth must have
      looked like to those Germans, desperate after Versailles and the
      ravages of post-First World War Germany. Perhaps not so different
      from how the uniforms, flags and marching youth of pre- and post-
      state Zionism must have looked to Jews after their history of
      suffering, and particularly after the Holocaust.

      This is, for Jews, their own worst nightmare: the thing they love
      the most has become the thing they hate the most And for those Jews
      and others, who shrink from the comparison, let them ask themselves
      this: What would an average German, an enthusiastic Nazi even, have
      said in, say, 1938 had they been confronted with the possibility of
      an Auschwitz? They would have thought that you were stark, staring

      American Jews and Jewish America
      At the heart of the conflict is the relationship between Israel and
      America. The statistics – billions in aid and loans, UN vetoes,
      etc., etc. need not be repeated here - American support for Israel
      seems limitless. But what is the nature of this support? For many,
      perhaps most, the answer is relatively simple. Israel is a client
      state of America, serving American interests or, more particularly,
      the interests of its power elites. This view is underpinned by the
      obvious importance of oil, the huge strategic importance of the
      region and the fact that, if Israel did not further the interests of
      those who control America, then we can be sure America would not
      support Israel. Also, there is no doubt that, in the IDF, America
      has found a marvellously flexible and effective force, easily
      aroused and let loose whenever any group of Arabs get a little above

      But is this the whole story? Does Israel really serve America's
      interests and is their relationship wholly based on the sharing of
      these interests? Consider how much in terms of goodwill from other
      nations America loses by its support for Israel, and consider the
      power and influence of the "Jewish", "Zionist" or "pro-Israel"
      lobby, as when many an otherwise responsible lawmaker, faced with
      the prospect of an intervention in their re-election campaign from
      the Jewish lobby, seems happy to put his or her re-election
      prospects way in front of what is good for America.

      The details of the workings of AIPAC and others, and the mechanics
      by which these groups exert pressure on America's lawmakers and
      governors, have been dealt with elsewhere; we need only note that
      this interest group is undoubtedly extraordinarily effective and
      successful. Not just a small group of Jews supporting Israel, as its
      supporters would have us believe, these are powerful and committed
      ideologues: billionaires, media magnates, politicians, activists and
      religious leaders. In any event, the power of the Jewish lobby to
      make or break pretty well any public figure is legendary – not for
      nothing is it often referred to simply as "The Lobby".

      But again, there may be far more to the Israel/U.S. relationship
      than just a commonality of interest and the effectiveness of certain
      interest groups. That support for Israel must be in the interests of
      those who control America is certainly true, but who controls

      Perhaps the real relationship is not between Israel and America but
      between Jews and America.

      The overwhelming majority of Jews in America live their lives just
      like any other Americans. They've done well and are undoubtedly
      pleased that America supports their fellow Jews in Israel but that's
      as far as it goes. Nonetheless, an awful lot of Jews certainly do
      control an awful lot of America – not the industrial muscle of
      America - the steel, transport, etc., nor the oil and arms
      industries, those traditional money-spinners. No, if Jews have
      influence anywhere in America, it's not over its muscle and sinew
      but over its blood and its brain. It is in finance and the media
      that we find a great many Jews in very influential positions. Lists
      abound (though you have to go to some pretty unpopular websites to
      find them) of Jews, prominent in financial and cultural life: Jews
      in banks; Jews in Forbes Magazine's Richest Americans; Jews in
      Hollywood; Jews in TV; Jewish journalists, writers, critics, etc.,

      Nor have Jews been slow in exploiting their position. Jews have not
      hesitated to use whatever resources they have to advance their
      interests as they see them. Nor does one need to subscribe to any
      conspiracy theory to note how natural it is for Jews in the media to
      promote Jews and their values as positive and worthy of emulation.
      When did anyone last see a Jew portrayed in anything other than a
      favourable light? Jews are clever, moral, interesting, intense,
      warm, witty, complex, ethical, contradictory, prophetic,
      infuriating, sometimes irritating, but always utterly engaging. Nor
      is it any wonder that Jews in influential positions are inclined to
      promote what they see as Jewish collective interests. Is it really
      all that incredible that Jewish advisers around the Presidency bear
      Israel's interests at heart when they advise the President on
      foreign affairs?

      But so what? So there are a lot of Jews with a lot of money, and a
      lot of Jews with a lot to say and the means to say it. If Jews by
      virtue of their ability and use of resources (as honestly gained as
      by anyone else) promote what they perceive as their own collective
      interest, what's wrong with that? First, with some notable
      exceptions, the vast majority of Jews can, in good faith, lay hands
      on hearts and swear that they never take decisions or actions with
      collective Jewish interests in mind, certainly not consciously. And
      even if they did, they are acting no differently from anyone else.
      With a few exceptions, Jews have earned their advantageous
      positions. They came with nothing, played according to the rules
      and, if they use their influence to further what they perceive as
      Jewish interests, what's so special about that? Do not the Poles,
      the Ukrainians, the Gun lobby, the Christian Evangelicals also not
      work to further their group interests?

      The difference between Jews and other groups is that they probably
      do it better. Jews are, by pretty well any criteria, easily the most
      successful ethnic group in America and, for whatever reason, have
      been extraordinarily successful in promoting themselves both
      individually and collectively. And there would probably be nothing
      wrong with this were it not for the fact that these same people who
      exert so much control and influence over American life also seem to
      refuse to be held accountable. It is the surreptitiousness with
      which Jews are perceived to have achieved their success which
      arouses suspicion. Jews certainly seem cagey about the influence
      they have. Just breathe the words "Jewish power" and wait for the
      reaction. They claim it's because this charge has so often been used
      as a precursor to discrimination and violence against them, but
      never consider the possibility that their own reluctance to discuss
      the power they wield arouses suspicion and even hostility.

      But there is another claim, subtler and more worrying. This is that
      it doesn't exist; that Jews do not wield power, that there is no
      Jewish lobby; that Jews in America do not exert power and influence
      to advance Jewish interests, even that there are no such things as
      Jewish interests! There are no Jewish interests in the war in Iraq,
      there are no Jewish interests in America; most amazing, there are no
      Jewish interests even in Israel and Palestine. There is no Jewish
      collective. Jews do not act together to advance their aims. They
      even say that the pro-Israeli lobby has actually not all that much
      to do with Jews, that the Jewishness of Israel is irrelevant and the
      Public Affairs Committees (PACs) which lobby so hard for Israel are
      in fact doing no more than supporting an ally and thus looking after
      America's best interests even to the extent of concealing their true
      purpose behind names such as "American for Better
      Citizenship", "Citizen's Organised PAC" or the "National PAC" – none
      of which make one reference in their titles to Israel, Zionism or
      Jews. Similarly, Jews and Jewish organisations are said to be not so
      much furthering Jewish interests and values as American, or, even,
      universal interests and values. So, the major Holocaust Museum,
      styled as a "Museum of Tolerance", focuses not only on anti-
      Semitism, but on every kind of intolerance known to mankind (except
      that shown by Jews to non-Jews in Israel and Palestine). Similarly,
      the Anti-Defamation League is but an organisation for the promotion
      of universal principles of tolerance and justice, not just for Jews
      but for everyone.

      This conflation of Jewish interests with American interests is
      nowhere more stark than in present American foreign policy. If ever
      an image was reminiscent of a Jewish world conspiracy, the spectacle
      of the Jewish neo-cons gathered around the current presidency and
      directing policy in the Middle East, this must be it. But we are
      told that the fact that the Jewish neo-cons, many with links with
      right wing political groups within Israel, are in the forefront of
      urging a pro-Israel policy, is but a coincidence, and any suggestion
      that these figures might be influenced by their Jewishness and their
      links with Israel is immediately marginalised as reviving old anti-
      Semitic myths about Jewish dual loyalty. The idea that American
      intervention in Iraq, the one viable military counterweight to
      Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and therefore an inspiration to
      Arab and Palestinian resistance, primarily serves Israeli rather
      than American interests has also been consigned to the nether world
      of mediaeval anti-Semitic myth. The suggestion that those Jews
      around the president act from motives other than those to promote
      the interests of all Americans is just anti-Semitic raving. And
      maybe they're right. Perhaps those who promote Jewish interests are
      in fact promoting American interests because, for now at least, they
      appear to be one and the same.

      Jewish America

      In Washington, D.C. is a memorial to a terrible tragedy. Not a
      memorial to a tragedy visited on Americans by a foreign power as at
      Pearl Harbour or 9/11, nor to a tragedy visited by Americans on
      Americans such the sacking of Atlanta. Nor is it a memorial of
      contrition to a tragedy inflicted by Americans onto another people,
      such as to slavery or to the history of racial injustice in America.
      It is to none of these. The Holocaust memorial is to a tragedy
      inflicted on people who were not Americans, by people who were not
      Americans, and in a place a very long way from America. And the co-
      religionists or, even, if you like, the co-nationals, of the people
      on whom the tragedy was visited and to whom the memorial is built
      make up around two percent of the American population. How is it
      that a group of people who make up such a tiny percentage of the
      overall American population can command such respect and regard that
      a memorial to them is built in the symbolic heart of American
      national life?

      The Jewish narrative is now at the centre of American life,
      certainly that of its cultural and political elites. There is,
      anyway, much in the way that Americans choose to see themselves and
      their history which is quite naturally compatible with the way Jews
      see themselves and their history. What more fitting paradigm for a
      country founded on immigration, than the story of the mass
      immigration of Jews at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth
      centuries? For many Americans, the story of those Jews who came to
      their Goldenes Medina, their Golden Land, with nothing and, through
      hard work and perseverance, made it to the very top of American
      society, is also their story. Similarly, what greater validation for
      a country founded on a narrative of conquest and ethnic cleansing
      than the Biblical narrative of the conquest and ethnic cleansing of
      the Promised Land with the addition of the equally violent
      settlement of modern Palestine with its own ethnic cleansing and
      then "making the desert bloom"? And what could be more inspirational
      for a country, if not officially but still viscerally, deeply
      Christian than the story of the Jews, Jesus' own people and God's
      chosen people, returning to their ancient homeland and transforming
      it into a modern state. And for a nation which sees itself as a
      beacon of democracy in the world, what better international soul-
      mate than the state of Israel, widely held to be "the only democracy
      in the Middle-East"?

      Most resonant, of course, is the notion of Jews as a suffering
      people. The fact that this "suffering people" is now enjoying a
      success beyond the dreams of any other ethnic group in America seems
      irrelevant. Also ignored is how American Jews have made it to the
      very top of American society whilst, every step of the way,
      complaining about how much they're being discriminated against.
      Nonetheless, to America, Jews have an enduring and ongoing history
      of suffering and victimhood. But this history has rarely been
      examined or even discussed.

      A Suffering People

      That Jews have suffered is undeniable, but Jewish suffering is
      claimed to have been so enduring, so intense and so particular that
      it is to be treated differently from other sufferings.

      The issue is complex and cannot be fully debated or decided here but
      the following points may stimulate thought and discussion.

      - During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as
      the Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century
      Ukraine, and even more so at other times in history, it has been
      said that the average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a
      Jew. The meaning is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most
      of their history, the condition of Jews was often far superior to
      the mass of the population.

      - The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context
      of a peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian
      peasantry by their Polish overlords. As has often been the case,
      Jews were seen as occupying a traditional position of being in
      alliance with the ruling class in their oppression of the peasantry.
      Chmielnitzky, the leader of this popular uprising, is today a
      Ukrainian national hero, not for his assaults on Jews (there are
      even references to his having offered poor Jews to join the uprising
      against their exploitative co-religionists – the Jews declined) but
      for his championing of the rights of the oppressed Ukrainians.
      Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence,
      though never justified, have often been responses to Jewish
      behaviour both real and imaginary.

      - In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three
      million non-Jewish Poles. Jews were targeted but so were Gypsies,
      homosexuals, Slavs and Poles. Similarly, the Church burned Jews for
      their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for
      their dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked:
      what's so special about Jewish suffering?

      The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish
      suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny.
      Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially
      unacceptable, leading often to social exclusion and discrimination,
      and, at worst, in some places is illegal and subject to severe
      penalty. Holocaust revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by
      their opponents, have challenged this. They do not deny a brutal and
      extensive assault on Jews by the Nazi regime but they do deny the
      Holocaust narrative as framed by present day establishments and
      elites. Specifically, their denial is limited to three main areas.
      First, they deny that there ever was an official plan on the part of
      Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime systematically and
      physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second, they deny that
      there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they claim that
      the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been greatly

      But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the
      Holocaust narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the
      truth and shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or
      whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its
      victims, the fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide,
      one may freely discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder
      of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and
      that the moon is but a piece of green cheese floating in space, but
      one may not question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the
      rest of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins the
      narrative of Jewish innocence which is used to bewilder and befuddle
      any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish power and responsibility
      in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the world.

      Jewish Power
      What is a Jew?

      Israel Shamir, the Russian-born Israeli writer, advocates the right
      of all people, whatever their ethnicity or religion, to live
      together in complete equality between the Mediterranean and the
      Jordan River. Shamir condemns the behaviour of Israel and of
      Diaspora Jews and calls for an end to their preferential treatment,
      but he also proposes an opposition to Judaism itself for which he
      stands accused of being anti-Jewish – a charge he does not deny but
      actually embraces.

      Shamir proposes the existence of a Jewish ideology, or "Jewish
      paradigm" as he puts it, and proposes that it is the voluntary
      adherence to this "spirit" which makes a Jew into a Jew. For him,
      Jewishness is neither race nor ethnicity – there is, for Shamir, no
      such thing as a Jewish `tribe' or `family' - no biological or ethnic
      body from which there can be no escape. Further, this ideology,
      based on notions of choseness, exclusivity and even supremacism is,
      at least when empowered, incompatible with peace, equality and
      justice in Palestine or anywhere else for that matter.

      No-one wants to oppose any Jews simply for being Jews, or even for
      what they believe, but only because of what they do. The problem is
      that since, according to Shamir, what Jews believe and even do is
      precisely what makes them into Jews, so opposition to Jewishness as
      an ideology surely comes dangerously close to opposition to Jews
      simply for being Jews. But for Shamir, Jews are Jews because they
      choose to be Jews. Someone may be born of Jews and raised as a Jew
      but they can if they wish reject their Jewish upbringing and become
      a non-Jew. And many have done just that including such famous
      escapees as Karl Marx, St. Paul, Leon Trotsky (and Shamir himself),
      etc. Opposition to Jews is not, therefore, like opposition to Blacks
      or to Asians or to other common racist attitudes since the object of
      the opposition is perfectly able to relinquish the ideology in

      Shamir has never in any way called for any harm to be done to Jews
      or anyone else, nor for Jews or anyone else to be discriminated
      against in any way. Adherence to this Jewish ideology is, for
      Shamir, regrettable, but not, in itself, a matter for active
      opposition. Nor does this mean that Shamir is opposed to any
      individual Jew just because he or she is a Jew. What Shamir actively
      opposes is not "Jews" but "Jewry". Analogous to say, the Catholic
      Church, Jewry consists of those organised Jews and their leaders who
      actively promote corrosive Jewish interests and values, particularly
      now in the oppression of the Palestinians

      One doesn't have to be in complete agreement with Shamir to
      understand what he is talking about. Why should Jews not have
      a "spirit"; after all, such a concept has been discussed with regard
      to other nations?

      "It is dangerous, wrong, to speak about the "Germans," or any other
      people, as of a single undifferentiated entity, and include all
      individuals in one judgment. And yet I don't think I would deny that
      there exists a spirit of each people (otherwise it would not be a
      people) a Deutschtum, an italianitia, an hispanidad: they are the
      sums of traditions, customs, history, language, and culture. Whoever
      does not feel within himself this spirit, which is national in the
      best sense of the word, not only does not entirely belong to his own
      people but is not part of human civilization. Therefore, while I
      consider insensate the syllogism, `All Italians are passionate; you
      are Italian; therefore you are passionate," I do however believe it
      legitimate, within certain limits, to expect from Italians taken as
      a whole, or from Germans, etc., one specific, collective behavior
      rather than another. There will certainly be individual exceptions,
      but a prudent, probabilistic forecast is in my opinion possible."
      Primo Levi

      And for Jews it is, perhaps, even more appropriate. The place of
      Judaism as an ideology at the centre for all Jewish identity may be
      debated, but few would dispute that Judaism is at least at the
      historic heart of Jewishness and, whatever else may bind Jews
      together, it is certainly true that religion plays an important
      part. Second, for a group of people who have retained such a strong
      collective identity with no shared occupation of any land, language,
      nor even, in many cases, a culture, it is hard to see what else
      there could be that makes Jews into Jews. Surely for Jews, in the
      absence of other, more obvious factors, it is precisely such a
      spirit that has enabled them to retain their distinctive identity
      for so long and in the face of such opposition.

      But if there is some kind of Jewish spirit or ideology, what is it?
      As far as Judaism, the religion, goes it seems fairly clear that
      there is an ideology based on the election of Israel by God, the
      special relationship Jews are supposed to have with God and the
      special mission allocated to Jews by God. So for observant Jews
      there is a special quality intrinsic to the covenant and to Judaism
      itself, though not all of them find it appealing:

      "There is a strain in Jewish thought that says there is a special
      Godly something or other that is passed down in a certain genetic
      line which confers a special quality on people and Jewishness is a
      special quality. I call that metaphysical racism." Rabbi Mark

      But whilst easy to see such a common spirit in religious Jews –
      after all it is precisely that which makes them religious – it is so
      much harder to define it in secular Jews, those Jews who reject,
      often quite vociferously, all aspects of Jewish faith. They often
      claim that they don't have an ideology, or that their ideology is
      one of, say, the left: not only not Jewish, but opposed to all
      religions including Judaism. Yet seemingly so free of all such
      ignorant superstition, these same people still call themselves Jews,
      still more often than not marry other Jews and still turn up to
      solidarity rallies only with other Jews and under Jewish banners.
      What is their ideology?

      For my money it is much the same sense of specialness found in
      religious Jews but with a special reference to victimhood. "Yes, but
      only in the Hitlerian sense", answered philosopher Maxime Rodinson
      when asked if he still considered himself a Jew. For many of these
      Jews it is their identity as a threatened and victimized people that
      makes them Jews. "Hitler said I was a Jew, so I may as well be a
      Jew" is one response or "To be a Jew somehow denies all those who
      ever persecuted Jews a victory– so I'm a Jew". For these Jews,
      albeit estranged from Jewish religious and often community life as
      well, Emil Fackenheim's famous post-Holocaust 614th commandment (to
      add to the other 613): Thou shall survive! is an absolute
      imperative. But whatever the motive, this self-identity runs very
      deep indeed. Amongst these Jews, no matter how left or progressive
      they may be, one may criticise Israel to the nth degree, poke fun at
      the Jewish establishment and even shamefully denigrate Judaism as a
      religion, but depart one iota from the approved text on anti-
      Semitism and Jewish suffering, and you are in deep trouble. For
      these rational folk, Jewish suffering and anti-Semitism is every bit
      as inexplicable, mysterious and therefore, unchallengeable as for
      any religious Jew.

      Jewish secularism is often offered as evidence that there is no such
      thing as a Jewish identity gathered around any shared ideology.
      After all, if all Jews subscribe to the same basic ideology, then
      how come so many Jews so obviously don't? And if all Jews
      essentially support the same interests, how come so many Jews so
      obviously don't? But is it that obvious? Not only do secular Jews
      very often seem to subscribe to Jewish notions of specialness and
      victimhood, but also, in their attitudes to non-Jews in general, and
      Palestinians in particular, they are by no means all that different
      from religious Jews.

      It is often quoted how many Jews are in solidarity movements with
      Palestinians and how many of these are secular. And it's true: there
      are many Jews in sympathy with the Palestinians and the overwhelming
      majority are secular, and the main thrust of post-1967 virulent
      Zionism has come to be associated with the religious right. But this
      secular Jewish tradition, in fact, has been at the forefront of
      Zionism's assault on the Palestinians. It was secular Labour
      Zionists who created the Zionist ideology and the pre-state Jewish-
      only society. It was secular Zionists - good, humanistic, left-wing
      kibbutzniks - who directed and carried out the ethnic cleansing of
      750,000 Palestinians, and the destruction of their towns and
      villages. It was secular Zionists who established the present state
      with all its discriminatory practices; and it was a largely secular
      Labour government that held the Palestinian citizens of Israel under
      military government in their own land for eighteen years. Finally,
      it was a secular, Labour government which conquered the West Bank
      and Gaza, and first built the settlements, and embarked on the Oslo
      peace process, coolly designed to deceive the Palestinians into
      surrendering their rights.

      And even those secular Jews who do support Palestinian rights, on so
      many occasions, the solidarity they offer is limited by self-
      interest. That these people, at least as much as anyone else, act
      out of their highest motives may be true. Many have been lifelong
      activists for many causes and many find their activism springs,
      consciously or unconsciously, from what they see as the highest
      ideals of their Jewishness. But nonetheless for many of them,
      solidarity with Palestinians means above all, the protection of
      Jews. They call for a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of the
      Palestinian homeland, but only to keep and protect the `Jewishness'
      of the Jewish state. The Palestinian state they call for would
      inevitably be weak, dominated by the Israeli economy and under the
      guns of the Israeli military – surely they must know what this would

      At rally after rally, in speeches and on leaflets and banners, these
      Jews denounce the occupation: "Down with the occupation…down with
      the occupation…down with the occupation…" but not a word of the
      inherent injustice of a state for Jews only; perhaps a mention of
      the ill-gotten gains of 1948, but nothing of the right of return of
      the refugees, no restitution merely `a just solution' taking
      account, of course, of Israel's `demographic concerns'. "We are with
      you….we are with you….we are with you" they say "…...but …" Whether
      it be condemnation of some form of Palestinian resistance of which
      they disapprove, or some real or perceived occurrence of anti-
      Semitism, for these Jews there is always a but."

      They should take a leaf from Henry Herskovitz. He is part of an
      organisation called Jewish Witnesses for Peace, which holds silent
      vigils outside synagogues on shabbat. Of course, all the other
      Jewish activists are shrieking at him that you mustn't target Jews
      for protest, that you must draw a distinction between Jews, Israelis
      and Zionists, that you'll only alienate the people we want to
      engage.... but he doesn't care. He knows that support from the
      Jewish mainstream, as Tony Cliff the Trotskyite used to say, "….is
      like honey on your elbow - you can see it, you can smell it but you
      can never quite taste it!" Henry also knows that to say that Jews in
      America individually and in their religious and community
      organisations should not be held accountable for what is happening
      is a lie and discredits all Jews before the non-Jewish world.

      So these secular Jews often end up being just another round of
      Michael Neuman's "veritable shell game" of Jewish identity. "Look!
      We're a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry--a
      religion!" Because this is the key to maintaining Jewish power – if
      it's indefinable, it's invisible. Like a stealth bomber (you can't
      see it on your radar but you sure know when you've been hit) Jewish
      power, with its blurred outlines and changing forms, becomes
      invisible. And if you can't see it you can't fight it. Meanwhile
      the assault on the Palestinians continues.

      "The Jews"

      The phrase is itself terrifying because of its past association with
      discrimination and violence against Jews, but Jews themselves have
      no problem with it. The notion of a Jewish People is at the centre
      of Jewish faith with Jews of all or no degrees of religious
      adherence over and over again affirming its existence. It is also at
      the heart of Zionism even in its most secular forms and is written
      into the foundational texts of the state of Israel. The concept even
      received international legal approval when the Jewish people were
      declared, by the West German state, to be the post-war residual
      heirs of intestate Jews. And yet it is an absolute article of faith
      for everyone, including those in the solidarity movement, that while
      we may criticize and confront Israel and Israelis, we may not
      criticize and confront the Jewish people and Jews. Unlike Israel and
      any other state, the Jewish People has no common policy and any
      attack on the Jewish people is, therefore, aimed at what they are
      and not at what they do.

      But is speaking of the Jews doing this or doing that any more or
      less acceptable than speaking of, say, the Americans? If the
      American military lays waste a third world country, it is done by
      order of the government (a small group) with the full support of the
      ruling elites (another small group), the tacit support of a
      substantial segment of the population (a larger group), the silent
      denial of probably the majority of the population (a very large
      group) and the opposition of a tiny minority (a small group). Is it
      all that different with Jews?

      It may be. Unlike the United States, `the Jews' are not a legally
      constituted body and they do not have an obvious and defined common
      policy. `The Jews' do not have an officially designated leadership,
      nor do they inhabit one area of land, nor do they speak a common
      language or even share a common culture. Theoretically at least
      there seem to be so many differences as to render any comparison
      untenable. In practice this may not be the whole story.

      It is true that `the Jews' do not constitute a legally recognized
      body, but Zionism, with its claim to represent all Jews, has
      increasingly confused the issue. It is also true that the Zionists
      do not represent all Jews but they do represent the views of very
      many Jews indeed, and certainly the most powerful and influential
      Jews. And there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of
      organized Jews are fully behind the Zionist project. That `the Jews'
      do not have a formally designated leadership does not mean that they
      have no leadership - bodies again to which the overwhelming majority
      of organized Jews owe allegiance: the Israeli Government, the World
      Zionist Organization; numerous large and powerful Jewish
      organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and The Conference
      of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, The Simon
      Wiesenthal Centre; lesser bodies such as the Board of Deputies of
      British Jews and similar organizations in every country in which
      Jews reside. Then there is the extensive network of Jewish bodies
      often linked, through synagogues to the whole spectrum of mainstream
      Jewish religious and community life. All these bodies with their
      vast and interconnected network do provide leadership; they do have
      clearly defined policies and they are all four-square behind Zionism
      and Israel in its assault on the Palestinians.

      Does this constitute a definable Jewish collective engaged in
      advancing Jewish interests? Officially, perhaps not, but,
      effectively, when one notes the remarkable unanimity of intent of
      all these bodies, the answer may well be yes. They do not of course
      represent all Jews nor are all individual Jews responsible for their
      actions, but nonetheless `the Jews' - organized, active and
      effective Jews - are as responsible for the pursuit of Jewish
      interests in Palestine and elsewhere as `the Americans' in
      Vietnam, `the French' in Algeria, and `the British' in India.

      So why should our response be different? Why should `the Jews' not
      be as accountable as `the Americans' and even ordinary Jews as
      accountable as ordinary Americans? Why do we not picket the offices
      of the Anti-Defamation League or The Conference of Presidents or the
      offices or even the homes of Abe Foxman, Edgar Bronfman and Mort
      Zuckerman in the U.S. and Neville Nagler in the U.K.? Why do we not
      heckle Alan Dershowitz in the U.S. and Melanie Phillips in the U.K.?
      What about the U.K. Chief Rabbi who in his time has had lots to say
      about Israel and Palestine? Why do we not take the struggle to every
      synagogue and Jewish community centre in the world? After all, every
      Shabbat a prayer is said for the state of Israel in every mainstream
      synagogue in the land, most of which are focal points for Zionist
      propagandizing and fundraising, so why should these Jew who choose
      to combine their prayers and their politics be immune while at
      prayer from our legitimate protests at their politics? And for those
      few Jews who are really prepared to stand up and be counted for
      their solidarity with Palestinians, why can we not still give to
      them due honour and regard as we did to those few Americans who
      opposed American imperialism and those white South Africans who
      opposed apartheid?

      The answer is that we are frightened. Even knowing that Jews are
      responsible and should be held accountable, still we are frightened.
      We are frightened because criticism of Jews with its woeful history
      of violence and discrimination seems just too dangerous a position
      to take – it may open the flood-gates to a burst of Jew hatred. We
      are frightened that if we were to discuss the role of Jews in this
      conflict and in other areas and begin to hold Jews accountable, we
      might be labelled anti-Semites and lose support. And, perhaps most
      of all, we are frightened of the conflicted inner passions that
      confound us all whenever we come to look at these things.

      Does speaking the truth about Jewish identity, power and history
      lead to Jews being led to concentration camps and ovens? Of course
      it doesn't! It is hatred, fear and the suppression of free thought
      and speech which leads to these things – whether the hatred, fear
      and suppression is directed against Jews or by Jews. Anyway, despite
      efforts to convince us to the contrary, we do not live in the
      thirteenth century. Californians are unlikely to pour out of their
      cinemas showing Mel Gibson's `Passion' chanting "Death to the Jews!"
      And, at a time when Jews in Israel/Palestine, overwhelmingly backed
      by Jewish organisations in the west, are desecrating churches and
      mosques wholesale and brutally oppressing entire Christian and
      Muslim populations, we may be forgiven for finding it hard to get
      excited about graffiti daubed on some synagogue somewhere.

      If we were to begin to engage with the role of Jews in this
      conflict, we may well be labelled anti-Semites and we may well,
      initially at least, lose support. The anti-Semite curse has long
      served as a frightener to silence all criticism of Jews, Israel and
      Zionism, and undoubtedly will be used to discredit our cause. But so
      what? They call us anti-Semites anyway so what's to lose? Edward
      Said spent a lifetime picking his way through the
      Israel/Zionism/Judaism minefield and never once criticised Jews, and
      he was called an anti-Semite his whole life, right up to and even
      after his death. As a movement we have probably spent as much time
      being nice to Jews as we have speaking up for Palestinians, and for
      what? Where has it got us? We are not racists and we are not anti-
      Semites, so let them do their worst. We shall speak our minds.

      For so long now Jews have told the world that black is white and not
      only that, but also if anyone should dare to deny that black is
      white they will be denounced as anti-Semites with all the attendant
      penalties. We are held in a moral and intellectual lock, the
      intention of which has been to silence all criticism of Israeli and
      Jewish power. In saying the unsayable we may set ourselves and
      others free. And think how it will feel the next time you are called
      an anti-Semite to say "Well, I don't know about that, but I do have
      some very strong but legitimate criticisms to make of Jews and the
      way they are behaving….and I intend to speak out"?

      And you never know; we may be pleasantly surprised. Israel Shamir,
      who has no trouble whatsoever in calling a Jew a Jew, was cheered
      spontaneously recently when he introduced himself from the floor at
      a London solidarity meeting. I saw it with my own eyes. His first
      English-language book has just been published; he corresponds freely
      and reciprocally with many highly respected figures and is on the
      boards of advisers of The Association for One Democratic State in
      Palestine and of Deir Yassin Remembered. Perhaps it's all just a
      case of the Emperor's new clothes. Perhaps we're all just waiting
      for some innocent child to blow the whistle.

      The situation facing the Palestinian people is truly terrible. Old
      political strategies have got us nowhere. We need a new and widened
      debate. It may be that a new and credible discourse which puts Jews
      and Jewishness at the critical centre of our discussions is part of

      And one final point: In a previous piece, paraphrasing Marc Ellis I

      "To the Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews say
      this: `You will apologise for Jewish suffering again and again and
      again. And, when you have done apologising, you will then apologise
      some more. When you have apologised sufficiently we will forgive
      you ... provided that you let us do what we want in Palestine.'

      Shamir took me to task, "Eisen is too optimistic", he
      said, "Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews…..the world

      Well, I don't know about that, but, if as now seems likely, the
      conquest of Palestine is complete and the state of Israel stretches
      from Tel-Aviv to the Jordan River, what can we expect? Will the Jews
      of Israel, supported by Jews outside of Israel, now obey the law,
      live peaceably behind their borders and enjoy the fruits of their
      victory, or will they want more? Who's next?

      Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered




      To subscribe to this group, send an email to:

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.